Friday, June 06, 2014

The GOP and Bowe Bergdahl

It’s shameful when a political party uses war to make its own motives seem nobler. And to disparage and question the loyalty and rubbish the reputations of others who disagree with them. There is something cowardly and genuinely evil in this. In recent years we’ve seen one political party that engages in this kind of underhanded behavior and another that doesn’t. One party that accuses others of cutting and running when they themselves cut and ran. And in doing so created all the negative consequences that came after. (Article about Reagan's Cut and Run in Foreign Policy Magazine)

We have one party that condemns the president for “negotiating with terrorists” when the great hero of their party did the same thing. Worse, in fact: he traded missiles to those terrorists to obtain the release of hostages, and funneled the money left over to extremist gangs of his own in Central America. It was all against the law and contrary to his own policy. (How Reagan traded arms to Iranian terrorists in exchange for hostages)

(When questioned about it Saint Ronald said he didn’t remember what he’d authorized. But, heck, just about every president has negotiated with shadowy and downright evil enemy groups. Our own Minute Men were called terrorists during the American Revolution. Labels get us nowhere. Negotiation sometimes works where war does not.)

Republicans accuse others of cynical trickery when they own the patent on it, delaying the release of American prisoners in order to win an election, not once but twice. Nixon won a close election by scuttling peace talks in Vietnam. Reagan won in 1980 by making sure Americans remained in captivity for several months till he was safely elected and sworn in.

(The New York Times article about how the Reagan Campaign kept Americans in captivity in Iran so he could win the election.)

(The Smithsonian Magazine article about how Nixon derailed peace in Vietnam so he could win election in 1968, and keep the war going for another six years.)

I guess we shouldn’t be surprised how low Republicans have gone to turn the traditional exchange of POWs at the end of a war into a shameful, even an impeachable, act. They were all in favor of it till President Obama got it done.

(SLATE article about how Republicans supported Bergdahl's release until the president got it done.)

They were demanding it until it happened. Then it became an impeachable offense. Did the GOP delete its thoughts and prayers for Bergdahl and his family? How's that done exactly?

(USAToday article detailing how GOP politicians deleted the Tweets they'd posted demanding the White House get Bergdahl released.)

Think you know all about Sgt. Bowie Bergdahl? You should read the Rolling Stone article about him, published in 2012. He was a serious, idealistic, brave, confused soldier who grew disillusioned with the mission and felt dishonored by the shabby disrespectful way his platoon mates treated the Afghan civilian population. In other words, he was a lot like a lot of other GIs in previous wars. Maybe after reading this you ought to pick up Joseph Heller’s WW2 novel Catch22 or Tim OBrien’s Going After Cacciato or The Things They Carried. War is hell. Or read The Red Badge of Courage. Those who haven’t been in war have little idea of it.

(Rolling Stone's excellent and thorough article about Bowe Bergdahl's military career.)

Oliver North, the pardoned felon who violated the law to trade arms to terrorists for hostages and used the extra cash to fund death squads in Central America, should know as much about ransoming hostages as anyone, but he’s been a political hit man a lot longer than he was a soldier.

(Salon article about Ollie North's slippery changeable position on dealing with terrorists.)

He’s saying the crime in the Bergdahl case was in NOT covering it up. I guess Nixon made an impression on someone.

The Cheney/Rove/Cruz/Palin/Limbaugh/Hannity anger machine would rather you not read the Bush White House memos that gave legal cover for this kind of transaction.

(Ironically, the jurist who wrote the Bush memo justifying torture also laid the legal ground for getting Bowe Bergdahl back.)

As if the exchange of prisoners at the end of hostilities ever needed legal justification. It’s simply always been done. Not doing it would put you in the same club with North Korea and whoever it was that imprisoned the Count of Monte Cristo.

John McCain demanded the White House do all it could to obtain Bowe Bergdahl’s release…. until the White House obtained his release. Then McCain condemned it as a shameful, treasonous and foolish act.

But wars always end in controversy and disagreement. John Kerry was crucified by other vets, envious of his heroism and resentful that he later opposed the war in Vietnam. They were fortunate to have wealthy Republicans bankrolling them.

McCain has been accused by less well-funded veterans’ and MIA groups for his scornful treatment of their concerns.

(Some of McCain's fellow Vietnam vets find his record in that war to be despicable and treasonous. But they weren't funded by wealthy backers of his political opponents so they haven't been on the nightly network newscasts.)

Which was surprising since McCain was a POW himself… Some who were in captivity with him have accused him of treason. Perhaps the charges are flimsy, perhaps not. The passage of time has forgiven a lot of former warriors for what they did, and sometimes what they did was done because of what was done to them.

(An alternative weekly in Arizona published this article about McCain's checkered military career. The man lives in a glass house.)

The point is… it’s objectionable to question other soldiers’ loyalty when your own loyalty and behavior under fire has been questioned.

It’s worse when politicians who have never put themselves in harm’s way in the service of their country are seating themselves in judgment of the motives or actions of actual soldiers and captives and their families. It’s shameful.

War makes even the bravest men and women disillusioned.

(The Guardian's article about the GOP's favorite Iraq War hero, Pat Tillman.)

(NPR's story about Tillman, when the Tillman biography came out.)

None of this is new, so why are we outraged? Because of the FoxNews outrage machine. But that machine is aimed at the wrong outrage. War is an outrage in itself. There are certainly good wars undertaken for noble reasons, but war is Hell, as General Sherman said. And there are a lot of shabby motives for it. As General Smedley Butler, America's most decorated veteran, once said.

(General Smedley Butler's famous "War is a Racket" speech.)

You may remember Smedley Butler's name. He was the war hero who certain Wall Street executives tried to hire to overthrow Franklin Roosevelt. He wanted nothing to do with it and told reporters and Congress all about the plot.

(The BBC did a documentary about the Wall Street Coup. For some reason the story got little play in this country. Perhaps because President Bush's grandfather was one of the plotters.)

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Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Hanging Private Ryan

A bit of dialogue from Saving Private Ryan that seemed topical today...

"Private Jackson: Sir... I have an opinion on this matter.

Captain Miller: Well, by all means, share it with the squad.

Private Jackson: Well, from my way of thinking, sir, this entire mission is a serious misallocation of valuable military resources.

Captain Miller: Yeah. Go on.

Private Jackson: Well, it seems to me, sir, that God gave me a special gift, made me a fine instrument of warfare.

Captain Miller: Reiben, pay attention. Now, this is the way to gripe. Continue, Jackson.

Private Jackson: Well, what I mean by that, sir, is... if you was to put me and this here sniper rifle anywhere up to and including one mile of Adolf Hitler with a clear line of sight, sir... pack your bags, fellas, war's over. Amen.

Private Reiben: Oh, that's brilliant, bumpkin. Hey, so, Captain, what about you? I mean, you don't gripe at all?

Captain Miller: I don't gripe to *you*, Reiben. I'm a captain. There's a chain of command. Gripes go up, not down. Always up. You gripe to me, I gripe to my superior officer, so on, so on, and so on. I don't gripe to you. I don't gripe in front of you. You should know that as a Ranger.

Private Reiben: I'm sorry, sir, but uh... let's say you weren't a captain, or maybe I was a major. What would you say then?

Captain Miller: Well, in that case... I'd say, "This is an excellent mission, sir, with an extremely valuable objective, sir, worthy of my best efforts, sir. Moreover... I feel heartfelt sorrow for the mother of Private James Ryan and am willing to lay down my life and the lives of my men - especially you, Reiben - to ease her suffering.”


A lot of bickering goes on in war. Soldiers grumble about the mission. Some of them have reason to. Some lose hope. Some die for no clear reason. Some are horribly wounded in mind or body. Some go missing. Some are taken prisoner by the enemy. When the war is declared over those prisoners are brought home and those taken by our side are returned according to international law. Making a political game out of it is not uncommon, but it is in bad taste.

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